Inspiring lifestyles

Unearthing the joys of seasonal food

By Juliette Bryant, nutritional consultant

We truly have access to a global food market these days. Blueberries are flown to the UK from Peru, green beans from Kenya and apples from New Zealand, all causing pollution and releasing carbon emissions as they go. 

But despite the convenience of having our favourite foods available to us all year round, nothing beats the taste, flavour and nutritional quality of freshly picked, local goods. We are lucky to live in East Anglia, a region that is rich in good soil and has a great climate for food production. 

From our gardens at this time of year, we can enjoy lettuce, dandelion and mustard leaves, spinach and herbs, such as parsley, mint, lemon balm, sage, rosemary and oregano. But there is also a wide range of wild food on offer too, which definitely ticks the boxes in terms of low food miles, seasonal freshness and packing a nutritional punch.

These include young hawthorn leaves and flowers (called “bread and cheese” by some locals), young lime leaves, chickweed and one of the most plentiful and nutritious crops at this time of year, nettles. Nettles make an excellent foodstuff as they have a higher iron content even than spinach and also provide an array of other minerals. They help alkalise the blood, detox the system and, being a green food, are packed with chlorophyll, which is one of nature’s magical components. 

It is amazing how plants convert the sun’s energy into food that can sustain us. Each one interacts with the sun’s rays in different unique ways to provide us with a plethora of phytonutrients, which nutritional science is learning more about each day. But plants are also beautiful and ‘feed’ us in a spiritual way too.

Another one of my favourite seasonal foods is local asparagus. Asparagus takes patience and can be tricky to grow – it requires several years of effort to establish the trenches required to produce those delicious spears. It is also seasonal in nature, growing in the UK between February and June, but reaching its peak in April, which makes it all the more special when it is here.

As well as the vegetable’s ‘melt in the mouth’ flavour, there is also something quite appealing about its effects. An important belief in folk medicine terms from the Middle Ages up until relatively recent modern times was the ‘doctrine of signatures’. The idea was that foods resembling body parts had a beneficial healing effect on that area. 

Walnuts, which when opened resemble a brain, are a classic example – and interestingly, we now know that they contain high levels of omega 3 fats, which is an essential nutrient for brain health. 

The erect spear of asparagus also indicates one of its qualities as a libido-enhancing foodstuff. While easy to dismiss it as an old wives tale, recent research has shown that it contains high levels of B vitamins, including B6, which help to increase the histamine levels essential for a healthy sex drive. So there you go.

Juliette’s asparagus a gogo

1 bunch of local asparagus, with the woody ends removed

Lightly steam the asparagus, before putting it into a bowl with one teaspoon of coconut oil and a pinch of sea salt. Mix so that it is all coated nicely in the oil.

Hollandaise sauce

¼ cup cashew nutss

¼ tsp turmeric

3 tbs water

3 tbs extra virgin rapeseed or olive oil

pinch of salt

2 tbs lemon juice or half a lemon

1 tbs maple syrup

pinch of black pepper

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and whizz until it forms a smooth, creamy sauce to dip your asparagus into.

For more recipes, go to www.julietteskitchen.tv.

Juliette Bryant

Juliette Bryant is an author, nutritional consultant, superfood chef and presenter who runs courses, talks, workshops and retreats around the world. Her passion is helping people to thrive by showing them how to make delicious and healthy food. Juliette runs a busy practice providing nutritional consultations to individuals and businesses worldwide.

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Inspiring lifestyles

Discovering the delights of wild food

Mushroom growing in a forest
Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

By Juliette Bryant, nutritional consultant and healer.

Many of the plants we think of as weeds have been used for thousands of years as both food and medicine. It is not necessary to go too far back in history to a time before online shopping, supermarkets or even the village store when knowing what could be eaten from the local environment was simply a matter of survival.

Farming is estimated to have first emerged in Britain around 6,000 years ago. Long before that, people hunted and gathered their food. Although all too often the few people in the world who still maintain this kind of lifestyle are considered primitive, the question is, are they really? Not only are they generally members of sophisticated cultures, but they often only need to work as little as three hours a day to satisfy their physical needs.

On Mother’s Day this year, I was given a wonderful book by Ray Mears called ‘Wild Food’. Through his television programmes and courses, Ray has done much to demonstrate the value of natural resources, honour the indigenous groups that keep them alive and generally help reconnect people to the earth.

After asking the question ‘what plants did our hunter gathering ancestors eat?” he brought in leading archeo-botanist, Professor Gordon Hillman, to answer. They spent time with the aboriginal people of Australia in order to learn the old ways that are still practiced today. What they discovered was a highly-developed awareness of the local environment – something that we in the West have lost largely.

While it may seen very convenient to have other people provide for all our food needs, in doing so we miss out on valuable medicinal food sources that can be found in our locale. There is even an argument that local food is best for us, not just due to food miles and freshness issues, but because the plants that grow near us may be most suited to our constitution and heal us in the most effective way.

The mystical series of books ‘Anastasia’, which is set in Siberia, considers the inherent power of wild foods – they have developed naturally over millions of years and are so tough they can survive almost anything humans throw at them, always returning to colonise the land no matter what.

juliette foraging for wild garlic
Juliette Bryant foraging for wild garlic (Giles Bryant)

Food for free

But it was the publication of Richard Mabey’s iconic book ‘Food For Free’  in 1972 that initially started a resurgence in eating wild foods. Now there are foraging courses all across the UK, including some good local ones in East Anglia. Such knowledge is not only beneficial for our health. It is also good for our pocket too as we can use foraged food to supplement the paid-for goods in our larder.

Unsurprisingly lots of businesses are likewise getting in on the act by selling foraged seaweed such as samphire as well as local mushrooms. The small Suffolk town of Sudbury even has a pop-up restaurant called Shillingford’s, which is located at The Quay performing arts theatre and specialises in wild food.

While there is something primal about collecting your own food, there are also massive potential health benefits from a medicinal point of view in eating a wider range of foods. Archeologists believe that pre-agricultural humans may have eaten between 200–1,000 different plants species over the course of a year. But today, a huge 90% of cultivated foods come from just 20 plants.

Having a more diverse diet though means we consume a wider range of tiny phyto-nutritients, the healing qualities of which are being discovered more and more each day.

While out foraging, however, it is important to bear a few things in mind:

  • It is against the law to uproot a wild plant, however common, without the landowner’s permission;
  • Only pick specimens that are abundant and never strip a plant completely of its leaves, fruit or berries, or take more than you need;
  • Beware of eating anything that may have been contaminated;
  • Never eat something if you are not completely sure of what it is, or how to cook it if it cannot be eaten raw, as some wild plants can be deadly.

Here is a quick and easy recipe that can be made from some of the wild foods growing all around us:

Wild garlic & chickweed hummus

1 tin chickpeas

2 tbs tahini

juice of 1 lemon

4 tbs olive oil

1 tsp good salt

small handful of chickweed

small handful of wild garlic leaves

3 tbs water

½ tsp paprika

Blend together well in a food processor, adding a dash more water if required. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika. This is delicious served with baked potatoes and salad.

JulietteBryant

Juliette Bryant is an author, nutritional consultant, superfood chef and presenter who runs courses, talks, workshops and retreats around the world. Her passion is helping people to thrive by showing them how to make delicious and healthy food. Juliette runs a busy practice providing nutritional consultations to individuals and businesses worldwide.